Name: José Arreola
Company: Cypress Semiconductor
Title: Senior Director of Platform Development; manages 35 engineers who are developing advanced semiconductor chips
Education: BS, Electrical Engineering, Universidad Ibero Americana (Mexico City), 1973; MA and PhD in Electrical Engineering, University of Florida, 1978
Years at Cypress: 12 1/2
Career Path: Joined Cypress in 1983; named "transistor czar" in 1987; subsequent promotions about every two years
José Arreola is a model for aspiring engineers at Cypress Semiconductor in San Jose, California. In a company known for setting out-of-sight stretch goals and advocating tough-minded competition for promotions and raises, he's jumped up the management ladder from one critical assignment to the next. This year the stakes are higher than ever: Arreola is leading a group of 35 engineers charged with producing Cypress's next generation of computer chips.
How I Learned to Get Ahead at Cypress
Twelve years ago we were working on a major project when I failed to complete a particular assembly task on time. A supplier said it would take two days to deliver a critical part instead of the promised one day. As I walked to the daily 4 p.m. task-force meeting, I kept telling myself it wasn't my fault. [CEO] T.J. Rodgers had a different take. He bored in on me: "Did you offer them more money to get the job done faster? Did you ask me to call their president and get them to speed up delivery?" I sat there thinking, "Oh shit, I should've thought of that." I didn't make the same mistake again.
The Lesson: Be creative at overcoming barriers. I always ask myself whether I've done everything possible.
My Breakthrough Promotion
It came in 1989, when T.J. asked me to become project manager for developing a new flash memory chip, which retains information after the computer is turned off. Before then I'd worked at solving engineering problems. Now I was being given an entire project to manage. Once we made our first $1 million, I went from someone who can do science to someone who can produce revenue.
The Lesson: To get ahead, contribute to the bottom line.
How Our Promotion Process Works
T.J. has made Cypress the ultimate meritocracy. It's all out front. We've got a computer-aided performance evaluation system, where managers rank the employees in their focal [work] group against each other.
The Lesson: I found myself doing things that would give me points with my boss and other managers. That doesn't mean playing politics. It means hustling to meet deadlines and goals before someone else meets theirs.
Coordinates: José Arreola, email@example.com
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.